Monday, February 16, 2015

Climate Changed

Our climate has changed, as illustrated by the image below (Forecast for Feb. 23, 2015, 1200 UTC, run on Feb. 16, 2015).

The left map shows temperatures of 40 degrees below zero moving down into North America from the Arctic, while temperatures in much of Alaska are above freezing point. The right map shows temperature anomalies over large parts of North America at both the top end (red) and the bottom end (purple) of the scale. Temperature anomaly forecasts for the week from Feb 19 to 26, 2015, feature in the video below.

Below is an update showing operational temperature anomalies recorded on February 23, 2015.

As parts of North America experienced record cold, part of Alaska was more than 20°C (36°F)
warmer than it used to be (compared to 1985-1996). And despite the cold weather in parts of Canada and Greenland, the Arctic as a whole is forecast to reach, on February 26, temperature anomalies as much as 3.32°C (6°F) above what temperatures used to be from 1979 to 2000 (Climate Reanalyzer forecast data).

What has caused our climate to change in this way? The image below shows that the jet stream, which once used to move over North America horizontally, has become more wavy, pushing warm air north on the left, while drawing cold air from the Arctic south on the right.

Importantly, while the jet stream is becoming more wavy or elongated vertically, the speed at which it crosses the oceans can increase dramatically. This can be the case where low temperatures over land and high sea surface temperatures combine to create huge temperature differences that drive up the jet stream's speed over oceans.

This is illustrated by the image below showing the Jet Stream reaching speeds as high as 410 km/h (or 255 mph) at the green circle near Greenland on January 9, 2015 (left), and speeds as high as 403 km/h (or 250 mph) at the green circle near Greenland on February 20, 2015 (right).

The reference map on the right shows the location of the continents for the same orthgraphic coordinates as the maps above and below.

Similarly, the Polar Vortex can reach high speeds, driving cold air downward over North America and driving warm air upward over Greenland and the North Atlantic.

The image below shows the Polar Vortex reaching speeds as high as 346 km/h (or 215 mph) at the green circle near Svalbard on January 18, 2015 (left), and speeds as high as 316 km/h (or 196.4 mph) at the green circle over the Arctic Ocean on February 9, 2015 (right).

Almost one year ago, the Polar Vortex also reached speeds as high as 410 km/h (or 255 mph), as discussed in an earlier post. Changes to the polar vortex and the jet stream are caused by emissions, and the situation looks set to deteriorate even further.

Above image illustrates that, on February 16, 2015, waves higher than 10 m (32.81 ft) were recorded off the east coast of North America and south of Iceland, while waves as high as 8.15 m (26.74 ft) were recorded in between Norway and Svalbard.

As above images also illustrate, changed wind patterns are carrying warm air high up into the Arctic.

The air that is moving north is much warmer than it used to be, as sea surface temperatures off the east coast of North America are much higher than they used to be (image left and as discussed in an earlier post).

Strong winds increase the volume of warm water that the Gulf Stream carries into the Arctic Ocean. They can also cause rain storms that can devastate Arctic ice and glaciers

Arctic sea ice currently has about the lowest extent for the time of the year since satellite measurements started in 1979.

The image below shows that, on February 17, 2015, Arctic sea ice had reached an extent of merely 14.406 million square kilometers.

click on image to enlarge
The Arctic sea-ice Monitor image below shows an extent of 13,774,725 km2 for February 18, 2015, with the red line illustrating the recent fall in extent even more dramatically.

Below is a 30-day animation showing sea ice thickness (in m) up to February 22, 2015 (and forecast up to March 2), from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

As the Arctic's snow and ice cover decline, more sunlight gets absorbed that previously was reflected back into space. All this adds up to a very dangerous situation, since huge amounts of methane are contained in sediments under the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean, and they can get destabilized as the water warms up.

In conclusion, feedbacks make that the Arctic is warming more rapidly than the rest of the globe and they threaten to trigger huge methane eruptions from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean.

Methane concentrations over the Arctic Ocean are very high at the moment. The image below shows the very high peak methane levels that have recently been recorded, against a background image showing high methane levels over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf on February 20, 2015.

The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action, as discussed at the Climate Plan blog.


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  2. Yes, very well done indeed.
    Is it only me, or did the Climate situation got really worse in the last 4 to 6 months?

  3. Great post until the last sentence. Aren't we beyond the point of effective action? I mean the 45 non-linear positive feedbacks that have been triggered are irreversible, aren't they? The climate situation has been getting really worse since 1850 or so. There is no mitigating this. The only thing left to plan for is extinction.

    1. It need not be extinction of our species, but only the extinction of the current globalized, industrial civilization--which for some folk would amount to the same thing, but not for everyone.